AP style and quality essays in response to Free Response Questions follow a relatively set formula. Learning how to write them is critical to your success in this course and on the AP test. The following tips are designed to help you in this process.
Free Response Questions (FRQ) are designed to force you to take a side on an issue. They will always be constructed so that there are at least two different positions that can be taken on the issue and the writer can score well by taking either side.
Consider the question below:
“Throughout the Colonial period, economic concerns had more to do with the settling of British North America than did religious concerns.” Assess the validity of this statement with specific reference to economic and religious concerns. A reasonable case can be made on either side of the question.
This leads to Tip 1: Take a stand! You cannot be wishy-washy and try to argue that both were important and score well. You must make an argument either for or against this proposition.
Closely related is Tip 2:You must have a well-constructed thesis statement setting forth your position in the first paragraph. I’ve given you a lengthy separate handout on constructing thesis statements that you should read and study. On my rubric, 20% of your score is the thesis statement. It sets the tone and direction of the entire paper.
FRQ responses are designed to be written during the AP test in about 35-40 minutes. You cannot write a five-page response. Thus, Tip 3:Construct your essay in 5 or 6 quality paragraphs (about three-four typed pages.) At the same time, the AP folks want you to put as many relevant facts into these essays as you can. They are trying to test the depth and breadth of your knowledge. So, Tip 4:Don’t waste words with flowery prose or non-specific bull schtick. Cite, discuss and analyze as many specific facts as you can. Closely related is Tip 5:Don’t go too deeply into one small aspect of the question and forget to cover the complete topic. In response to the question above, you could spend five paragraphs discussing in great detail the Plymouth Bay colony and load that discussion with lots of facts regarding the impact of religion on that colony. But, you would score very poorly because you would not have discussed any of the other colonies or groups of settlers. In other words, don’t lose site of the forest because you spend too much time analyzing one tree.
This leads to Tip 6: Analysis, Analysis, Analysis. You must analyze the facts you identify. You can catalog a ton of relevant facts, but if you don’t analyze them and explain why they are significant and/or how they support your thesis you won’t score well.
Life is complex and rarely black and white. Hence, Tip 7:Don’t ignore the facts that are inconvenient to your thesis.This is critical. Even though your thesis will take a firm stand and you will work hard to prove it through the use of solid facts coupled with insightful analysis, if you ignore facts that are contrary to your thesis you will lose points. In the above question, if your thesis was that religion was the most important factor leading to the settlement of the colonies, you can’t ignore Jamestown, which was settled primarily for economic reasons. You must mention Jamestown and then explain why it and other economically motivated settlements are less significant that those that were settled for religious reasons. This also gives you further opportunity to show off all the facts that you know. It also strengthens your argument, because you have shown that it stands up in the face of contrary arguments.